Q&A: Cox Media’s Sharon Frazier

Sharon Frazier currently serves as regional vice president for Cox Media’s Eastern Region that includes New England, Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, Oklahoma, Omaha, Kansas/Arkansas, Gulf Coast, Gainesville, Fla., and Roanoke, Va.

Frazier has been with Cox Media since 1996, when she joined the company as a local sales manager for Cox’s Southside Hampton Roads, Va., system. She joined Cox Media’s corporate group in December 2005 when she was named vice president-media sales and marketing. She is responsible for marketing, research, national sales and advanced advertising. Like many cable ad sales personnel, Frazier previously worked as an account executive for 10 years. She won the CAB’s strategic positioning of cable advertising award for the “General Motors Strikes Back” campaign in 1999. She was also the winner of eight CAMY Awards -- Cox Media’s annual awards program for highest revenue growth, highest operating cash flow growth, synergy, partnership, and extra mile. She is currently attending the Betsy Magnus Leadership Program. Frazier recently spoke with Local Cable Ad Sales contributor K.C. Neel. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How is the political season turning out so far?

A: We have seen political spending in every one of our markets so far this year; however, it has not been as robust as we’d like. Spending has come from presidential candidates and proposition ads so far. The early primary in Florida definitely impacted us, and we’re hoping Florida will hold another Democratic primary. Our share of television dollars for the political category is up significantly over 2006 as political advertisers embrace the power of our medium.

Q: What are your expectations for political advertising this year?

A: We are expecting a banner year for political! Our current outlook is for the bulk of the spending to come from presidential and related support groups; propositions and ballots; and local and state elections. Most of the spending is expected toward the end of third quarter and leading up to Nov. 4. Party support groups have indicated that they have a great deal of money to spend, and their strategy will be targeted to specific states. This will drive spending to spot cable.

Q: Some operators posted reductions in their ad sales in ’07. How did Cox fare?

A: We were going up against high political spending in 2006, so that in combination with declines in the automotive category caused a tough year for us. This was partially offset by significant increases in fast food, education, and financial categories.

Q: What does ’08 look like, political advertising aside?

A: Our markets are extremely competitive with the automotive and furniture categories showing declines. Locally, our churn rate is slightly higher than this time last year, but our growth on existing accounts and new business sales are offsetting this, so we entered the year stronger than we did in 2007. Nationally, we’re pacing ahead of last year, driven in part by the political category.

Q: Is the threat of a recession and poor sales for auto manufacturers affecting your sales?

A: This seems to be a bigger threat for us on the local side of our business. Local advertisers are placing buys later than they usually do so they can look at their current sales and make a decision on advertising based on the latest information.

Q: What are your biggest opportunities going forward?

A: Our biggest opportunities are in some of our new products. VOD billing year-to-date has doubled with strong interest from local clients. Our real estate product: GoScout HOMES has shown 30% increases even in a soft real estate market. On our core business (30-second spots), we are concentrating on using metrics to identify opportunities. These include tracking inventory utilization, client churn, growth on returning accounts, new business and market share. These are helping us to identify opportunities on a market-specific and company-wide basis.

Q: What challenges do you face?

A: Our biggest challenge is the economy. If clients are spending in our markets, we will capture our share. If the spending is down, we try to offset it with new products and new advertisers, but it makes for a very challenging year.

Q: What kind of impact will
advertising have for you?

A: 2008 is the year for VOD. With the launch of Elections ’08 and increased awareness and usage in our homes, we believe that clients will embrace this product as part of their media mix. Even though the revenue numbers are still small, we are already seeing a major increase in both the number of clients and revenue on VOD. So far this year, we have doubled our VOD revenue as clients use VOD to provide information to those most interested in their products and services.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?

A: I’m not sure if I like the strategy or people part of my job the best. Creating and implementing strategy is fun because I get to work with the markets to identify an opportunity and then create a strategy that fills the need of a particular group of customers. However, there’s nothing more rewarding than working with a talented group of people, and while you’re coming up with solutions, everyone is learning and growing at the same time.